The Magical Duet


“Birdie, birdie, birdie!”

Every morning I hear these songs in the trees outside my bedroom window. And yes, they are songs, not car alarms going off (although it does sound like that!). It’s a Northern Cardinal, singing its little heart out.

Now that spring is back, birds are arriving from their winter homes and getting ready to raise their families. The dawn chorus is assembling again. Dawn chorus is a term that many people use to describe when all the birds sing in the morning. When you hear a singing bird it usually is a male, but that’s not always the case. One of the exception to the  “only-males-sing” idea is the Northern Cardinal. Th female Northern Cardinal also sings.

Northern Cardinals are very vocal songbirds. You can hear cardinals sing all year round, not just during the spring. They have about sixteen different calls and ten different songs.(We will talk about the difference between songs and calls in another post, because that would take a whole post to explain.)

(Image by Bonnie Taylor Barry via

While singing a cardinal pair may perform a duet. The male will sing a short song (about 2 to 3 seconds long) and the female will answer back, but at a softer volume. They will go back and forth for a bit with their beautiful duet. The female’s reply, or lack thereof, will determine when a male will bring food to the nest. Sometimes as they are singing they will move closer together and eventually meet up.

I have a very fond memory of a Northern Cardinal duet from a few years ago. It’s from the time before Dave and I became birders. Dave and I have been together for almost eight years now, and although we’ve developed our passion for birding within the past few years, we have always enjoyed going to parks. While in college we would frequently walk in Alcyon Park, which was in a neighboring town. We were looking out over a meadow when we heard a beautiful song.

Cheer, cheer, cheer, cheer!” It was a stunning bright red male Northern Cardinal, singing from a nearby branch. In the distance we heard a faint ‘cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer!”

“Wow, someone is answering back!” We listening closely. The male, with his strong voice sang again. And there was the echo, still faint but seemingly a little closer.

This went on for a few minutes. We continued to listen intently to the lovely duet that was being performed right in front of us. The cardinals seem didn’t realize they had an audience. And after each partner made their reply the song seemed to move closer until suddenly there she was!

The female, with her gorgeous red and olive plumage! She landed right next to him on his perch. What a beautiful pair they made. Listening to this pair serenade each other was such a moving experience for me. I didn’t spend a ton of time in nature growing up, so I was really touched by the Northern Cardinal duet. Little did I know a few years later I would be having all sorts of wonderful bird experiences on a daily basis.

The Northern Cardinal duet at Alcyon Park was about six years ago, but it still feels so real and present as I reminisce on the experience. Those little cardinals captured my heart during that duet. Since that day every time I see a cardinal it is a magical moment for me.

Do you have a magical bird moment? I would love to hear your stories in the comments.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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